Shelter Step Four

Step #4: Plan for The Future

Depending on the type of facility you operate, and the population your facility serves, some of our recommendations may have sounded unrealistic.  Some of our customers serve families and offer private rooms or apartments.  Their long-term goal is to provide stability with the hope that these families transition back into traditional housing.  Others bring in dozens of people a night during the coldest months of the year, and they are primarily trying to keep people safe and warm while maintaining a clean facility.  Others may house clients for weeks and specialize in job-training, substance abuse recovery, and other necessary services.  All of these populations and services come with unique challenges from a pest control perspective.  We can’t anticipate every problem.  However, we can talk through a few scenarios hoping that solutions to these population-specific challenges will help you navigate difficult situations in your facility.

Plan for the Population You Shelter

Different client populations may pose different challenges.  If you serve clients that struggle with chronic homelessness, it may be especially difficult for them to keep bed bug issues at bay.  They may have relatively little choice over where they stay and have limited access to laundry services.  Additionally, because this particular population may spread their time between hotels, shelters, vehicles, or public spaces, they may have had many opportunities to pick up pests.  

If you serve families and children, there may be different considerations.  These situations can be especially sensitive as children don’t have the resources to handle pest issues themselves.   It can be extremely embarrassing for a child to be singled out because of head lice or insects on a backpack.  For this reason, consider paying special attention to their coats, backpacks, and school supplies.

Plan for Your Facility

The intake process outlined in section three is ideal for residential facilities that admit several clients a day.  It also works best when these clients are bringing a limited number of items.  Many residential centers that focus on substance abuse, psychological disorders, or helping women escape abusive situations, frequently experience a volume of client admissions and discharges conducive to the process in section three.  

Of course, some shelters operate very differently.  Warming centers or wet shelters may take in a large number of clients every day.  They also may exercise relatively less control over what is brought into the shelter.  Additionally, these may be temporary solutions to an acute short-term problem.  The physical building may be used for other purposes for most of the year.  

In these situations, it is not practical to treat every resident’s items individually.  Additionally, if you utilize cots or air mattresses, it probably doesn’t make sense to purchase mattress encasements or climb up monitors.  However, in these situations, you may have other factors working in your favor, such as:

  • Lack of traditional furniture with lots of cracks and crevices
  • Cots and air mattresses are light and easy to move into chambers like the ZappBug Room
  • During the day the room may be empty, making it easy to gather furniture without disturbing residents

Staff can use these factors to their advantage.  While it will be difficult to prevent as many bed bug introductions, it is much easier to treat cots and air mattresses during the day.  In this situation, your strategy might simply be to treat as many cots and air mattresses as possible during the day.

Shelters and nonprofits that seek to offer long-term assistance may face different challenges.  These facilities are more likely to encounter families who may have significantly more possessions.  Children can be particularly challenging.  We know that bed bugs and pests will sometimes find their way into any building.  However, providing hygienic conditions for families with children is critical.  Vigilance may be required to keep pest introduction to a minimum within this environment.  

Additionally, since you are hoping to help residents transfer from this kind of facility into traditional housing, minimizing pest infestation issues is critical.  You do not want bed bugs and other pests to spread to other single occupancy dwellings in your facility.  You also do not want clients to unknowingly take bed bugs with them as they transition into traditional housing.  

Nonprofits offering longer-term housing services face most of the challenges associated with eliminating pests from single-family or apartment homes.  Single occupancy dwellings can be more difficult to inspect for pests like bed bugs.  However, nonprofits specializing in this kind of housing will normally have fewer residents moving in or out of their facility on any given day.  There are several steps your staff can take to reduce the introduction of pests in this kind of environment.  

Consider purchasing a larger heat chamber such as the ZappBug Room in order to treat larger items that clients may bring with them to this environment.  Since some pest introductions are inevitable, you could also consider reheating residents’ belongings before they leave your facility for traditional housing.  Residents may move furniture within their unit or accumulate new pieces of furniture during their stay.  This can make the inspection process more time-consuming.

This is a situation where it may make sense to partner with your chosen pest control company to provide inspections on a predetermined schedule.  While you can still use tools such as climbup traps under bed legs to detect the presence of pests such as bed bugs, the location, and distribution of bed bugs can depend on the habits of individual residents.  For example, if one of your residents regularly naps on a chair or couch within the unit, bed bugs could be concentrated on this piece of furniture.  If you only have interceptor monitors below the legs of the bed, you could easily miss bed bugs on another piece of furniture.  

Depending on the construction of your building, your pest controller may also recommend other preventative measures.  For instance, “dusting” wall voids with diatomaceous earth or silica-based desiccant products are common interventions in many multi-family housing structures.  Some pest professionals may also utilize other kinds of glue traps or monitors, and some may utilize bed bug sniffing dogs.  However, no method of detection is perfect or 100% reliable.  

Our point is not that one situation is easier or harder than another.  We want to stress that any facility can improve their situation by treating belongings proactively, training staff to identify bed bugs and other pests, and implementing basic IPM procedures at each room and bed.  Adapting these recommendations to fit the exact challenges of your facility, services, and client population will require planning.  Educating your staff will take some time.  Finally, some of the products outlined in this guide will require an upfront investment by your facility.  However, by adopting these steps, our customers have reported a 50% to 80% decrease in pest activity.